Office managers provide support throughout 50 years
Courtney Becker | Thursday, November 3, 2016
In addition to the staff of students who work for The Observer, there is always one person without whom producing a daily newspaper would not be possible: the office manager.
Debra de St. Jean, current office manager, loves her job.
“I’ve got the best job in the world because of all [the students]. They make it worthwhile,” she said. “Coming in at night and seeing [the students] working, just helping in any way I can, just seeing the paper come out every morning [are the best parts].”
De St. Jean took the position over from Shirley Grauel, who started working with The Observer in 1980.
“I applied for a job with the University … and they didn’t have anything for me,” Grauel said. “A few days later, the girl from human resources called and said, ‘I have a job. It’s for nine months and it’s working with the student newspaper.’ I had also worked at the South Bend Tribune, so it was just a perfect match.”
Before Grauel knew it, a nine-month job turned into 30 years — after three decades with the paper, she retired in 2010.
“It was a family atmosphere,” she said. “I respected the students, and the students respected me. I never felt a gap. It was just a very good experience. To tell you the truth, I worked there for five years and [I realized], ‘I have never gotten up and thought, oh heck, I have to go to work.’”
Grauel was with The Observer through two office moves and the addition of computers to the newsroom, which she said created problems at first.
“Stories kept getting lost,” she said. “… It was very difficult when they first got the computers. And that was when we first put the classified ads and everything on the computers. It was a nightmare.”
In addition to working with the business side of The Observer — by handling accounts payable, accounts receivable and helping with ad sales — De St. Jean and Grauel discovered their day-to-day presence in the office was vital.
“Since I’m here during the day when [the business manager is] here, and [production staff] works nights, I’m kind of like the go-between,” De St. Jean said. “… [It’s hard] getting people to understand that you’re students running this paper. A lot of people call up and say, ‘Why is no one there?’ Well, it’s because they’re in class.”
Grauel said she tried to make things easier for the Observer staff by filling any necessary roles when the students were unavailable.
“They needed somebody full-time there because everybody was coming in and out, in and out, going to classes,” she said. “Just having a constant person there was beneficial. They couldn’t have done it without Deb or me.”
Once De St. Jean took over after Grauel’s retirement, she needed to adjust to working with students for the first time — something she said has led to lasting relationships.
“Working with students [was new], because I hadn’t worked with a student group in the past,” she said. “There are quite a bit of people that you need to learn, and then each year, it changes. That’s probably one of the hardest things on the job. As much as I’m happy to see [students] graduate, it’s always bittersweet because you lose that group. But it’s kind of nice because you maintain relationships forever.”
Grauel said although she misses working with students, she has also maintained contact with many of them.
“I miss the students. I really, really do,” she said. “I miss them, but I still keep in touch with quite a few — especially with Facebook, you know, you can see anything. … I loved working with them. I really did. They were a pleasure.”
De St. Jean said she hopes in the future, members of the Notre Dame community will stop to pick up a hard copy of the paper more frequently.
“I’d like it to kind of go back a little bit and stop the progression of no one picking up a paper anymore,” she said. “As far as The Observer is concerned, I’d like to see [the students] get a little more recognition.”
Grauel said she is honored to have been a part of the Observer’s history for so long.
“For a daily newspaper, they do one heck of a job. They really do,” she said. “It’ll be 50 years, for gosh sakes — and when you think, I was there for 30 of them. … It was a pleasure to work there, it was an honor to work there. I loved everyone and before I knew it, I had been there 30 years.”